14 August 2014

The Habsburg Peridot Parure

Archduchess Isabella wears the peridot parure (source)

Our focus today is a true royal rarity: a diamond parure that also includes a generous helping of peridot, the birthstone of all of you August babies. What could make it better? Why, a provenance that connects it with the Habsburgs, surely!

The set in question is a complete parure of peridot jewels: a tiara, a necklace, earrings, and a substantial brooch. The parure dates to about 1825 and has been attributed to Köchert, who would later become the imperial court jewelers to the Habsburgs. The tiara features large diamond scrolls, the center of which are studded with absolutely enormous peridots. Moreover, the tiara can also be supplemented with seven of the pendants from the necklace, which can be set upright atop the piece. A delicate floral motif runs through all of the pieces in the parure, including the pair of pendant earrings and the large devant de corsage.

Archduchess Isabella wearing the parure (source)

It’s said that the first owner of the tiara was Archduchess Henriette of Austria, who was born a princess of Nassau-Weilburg (and was a great-great-granddaughter of George II of Great Britain). Her much older husband, Archduke Charles, was a field marshal who fought against Napoleon. Ironic that Napoleon’s enemies were quickly adopting the fashion for jewelry parures that he had begun in France!

From Charles and Henriette, the peridot set eventually passed to their grandson, Archduke Friedrich, and his wife, Princess Isabella of of Croÿ. Isabella became the wearer most associated with the tiara. She was photographed in the suite at one of the last great Habsburg celebrations: the coronation of Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary, which took place in December 1916 (seen below, as well as in the portrait above).

Archduchess Isabella wears the peridot set at the coronation of Charles I (source)

Isabella’s husband died in 1936, many years after the Habsburgs had lost their imperial throne. The peridot jewels were auctioned off around the time of his death. Stripped of their titles, and without occasions for pomp and prestige, it’s not surprising that the jewels were sold. The buyers were members of the Coudenhove-Kalergi family, a clan of nobles from the present-day Czech Republic. They owned the parure for two generations, and then it was sold again in 2001.

Joan Rivers wears the peridot necklace and earrings, 2004

This time, Fred Leighton, the jewelry company that deals largely in vintage pieces, was the buyer. They often loan jewels to celebrities for public appearances, and the peridot parure was no exception. Above, you can see Joan Rivers wearing the necklace and earrings from the set at the Golden Globes in 2004. Fred Leighton sold either some or all of the parure to Lily Safra, a wealthy philanthropist; in turn, she sold the earrings and the brooch at Christie's in 2012. Those two pieces alone fetched more than $170,000.

I only wish more royal families today experimented a bit more with semi-precious gems in their jewelry. Wouldn’t a peridot parure look magnificent today on Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Queen Letizia of Spain, or even the Duchess of Cambridge?